Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP
A former obstetrician-gynecologist who spent more than three decades working for the University of California, Los Angeles, has been convicted of sexually abusing his patients.
A jury on Thursday found Dr James Heaps guilty on five counts, including three counts of sexual assault by fraud and two counts of sexually penetrating an unconscious person, according to the LA County District Attorney’s Office.
Heaps’ 2019 arrest led to thousands of women claiming sexual abuse from the doctor, and to date UCLA has spent approximately $700 million in lawsuit settlements for his alleged role in covering up the abuse.
LA jurors were hanged on nine counts
A 2020 UCLA special investigative report alleged that Heaps used painful vaginal examination techniques, unnecessarily groped and touched patients during exams, and made inappropriate sexual comments to patients and staff.
Heaps faced 21 counts in total.
He was acquitted of three counts of sexual assault by fraud, three counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and one count of sexual exploitation of a patient.
Jurors were unable to rule on nine other counts, including three counts of sexual assault by fraud, four counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and two counts of sexual exploitation of a patient.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement he was “obviously disappointed” with the acquitted counts, but thanked the jurors for bringing “some measure of accountability to Dr. Heaps”. .
Gascón’s office said it has not yet decided whether to retry the suspended accounts.
“The trauma Dr. Heaps inflicted on the very people he was sworn to care for is immeasurable,” Gascón said.
Heaps’ sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
UCLA agreed to pay more than $700 million in lawsuits
Defense attorney Lenny Levine argued that Heaps’ actions were medically appropriate and conducted in the presence of female personnel, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“He’s either a doctor doing his job or a freak sex maniac seeking sex whenever he can,” Levine said during oral argument. “Those are your two choices.”
The charges against Heaps all relate to incidents that occurred between 2009 and 2018, a period that falls within the statute of limitations for criminal charges.
Since Heaps’ arrest in 2019, thousands of women have come forward to claim he abused them through legal action.
College medical abuse represents the latest wave of the #MeToo movement
For one such lawsuit, settled in 2020 for $73 million, UCLA agreed to set up a fund to pay more than 5,500 victims participating in a class action lawsuit. Payments to individual accusers would range from $2,500 to $250,000.
The women alleged in the lawsuit that the university ignored decades of complaints and intentionally covered up the abuse before it began investigating Heaps in 2018.
A state investigation and subsequent UCLA internal review both reported that the university repeatedly failed to investigate the allegations, allowing Heaps to continue practicing.
Hundreds of women who allege doctors sexually assaulted them have also filed lawsuits against the University of Michigan, University of Southern California, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University.
Allegations of sexual misconduct in college doctors’ offices have been touted as the latest wave in the #MeToo movement, which started five years ago this month and continues to spread around the world.